I, like many people, have a tendency to live behind my headphones, burning through podcasts, listening to whatever the music algorithms decide is supposed to be next (or one song on loop. For days on end…), or putting on some form of background noise, be it sound effects or the news. However, I’ve noticed that choosing what I’m playing in the background, that there’s not one consistent type of thing that I play while I’m working, but there are a few characteristics that seem to show up, regardless of the type of work:
- Fit the tempo to the type of work. I realized a couple of years ago that the faster paced music that I would listen to when I was writing essays, firing off words quickly, would cause me to feel frustrated when I switched over to more brain intensive work that I needed to take my time with. It’s not to say that the solution is to switch over to the slowest pace ambient music there is, but maybe there’s a healthy medium between 50 and 250 BPM that gets the job done.
- Pick something that you can tune out. It can sound strange to recommend actively listening to something that you’re just going to tune out, but hear me out. The ideal music or other background audio for me is something that I either know well enough to follow along without thinking about, or am not super invested in, like an interview I may have seen, some form of documentary, or even a stand up comedy special that I’ve watched a number of times before.
- Don’t be afraid to turn it all off. When it comes down to the wire, I often find myself in a position where listening to anything results in passing more time than I intend while I’m working, simply because when I’m tired, whatever I’m listening too starts to split my attention (though to be honest, I’d guess that if I actually were to sit down and work without anything on but a white noise track, I’d probably be even more productive).